Trinity Parish Church: A Brief History
There have been Episcopalians in Seattle from the earliest days of settlement, with the first Episcopal service held in 1855. Trinity was formally established 10 years later in August 1865. Its first church building was erected in 1870 at Third and Jefferson in what was then the suburbs of the small but rapidly growing town. Until 1878, Trinity was served by visiting clergy who might stay for a few years—but sometimes the parish was without clergy for years at a time. Then leadership would rest with strong lay leaders from the congregation.
The Rev. George Herbert Watson, Trinity’s first rector, arrived in 1878. During the first 10 years of his 18-year tenure, Trinity established five mission churches as well as Grace Hospital, one of the first hospitals in the city. Trinity would ultimately nurture the growth of 13 churches and thus is known as the Mother Church for Episcopalians in the mid Puget Sound region.
Trinity’s wood-frame church, along with much of Seattle, was consumed by the Great Fire of 1889. But like the city, Trinity quickly rebounded. In 1892, parishioners were welcomed to the current stone church at Eighth and James. The Rev. Watson died in 1896 at age 50, but not before he had made an indelible stamp on the parish that is still felt to this day. Liturgy, music, beauty, inclusivity, and ministries and outreach to the wider community are the values Trinity still holds dear.
A second fire in 1902 gutted the stone church. But under the energetic leadership of Trinity’s second rector, the Rev. Herbert Gowen, the church was rebuilt, expanded, and enhanced in just one year. In 1930, the parish hall, kitchen, classrooms, and gym were built, thanks to a generous donation from the Cox family.
Then, almost 100 years after the 1902 fire, the church was again seriously damaged, this time by the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001. Restoring Trinity from this calamity was described by the Rev. Paul Collins as “the most ambitious undertaking in the history of our parish.” Millions of dollars needed to be raised from donations, grants, and sale of assets. Seemingly against all odds, the money was raised. Trinity was retrofitted and restored, reopening for Christmas services in 2005.
During Trinity’s long existence, the parish’s fortunes have waxed and waned, much like those of the city. Population expansion and contraction, wars, the Depression, neighborhood change—all have affected Trinity. But certain truths have remained constant over the years. Trinity remains dedicated to its role as a mission church in the heart of the city, welcoming everyone to its contemporary Christian community rooted in ancient practices. Trinity is proud to be an open and affirming congregation dedicated to environmental stewardship and to the needs of our congregation and those of the poor, unloved, and marginalized of our wider community.
For more in depth reading about Trinity's history, please refer to the Historical Resources page.
Thank you to Parish Archivist, Richard Baxendale, for drafting the content for this page.